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‘Body of Evidence’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 15, 1993


Uli Edel
Willem Dafoe;
Joe Mantegna;
Anne Archer;
Jurgen Prochnow

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Madonna, that pop tart, likes nothing better than a game of "if you'll show me yours, then I'll show you mine." On second thought, forget about yours. Madonna is a case of arrested development if ever there was one; the brittle bottle blonde's continued status as the Andy Warhol of sex depends solely on how long her naked egoism remains of interest to anybody but dirty old men. Actually, even they expect saucier fare than Madonna serves up in her new movie "Body of Evidence."

The film, which might as well be an adaptation of her "Sex" book, is a bland, utterly silly, curiously provincial courtroom drama that pits Madonna's dominatrix against Willem Dafoe's strait-laced attorney. She's on trial for the murder of a wealthy heart patient who dies in the saddle -- shoot, he was probably even wearing spurs -- while watching a videotape of an earlier performance. "Andrew {the dead guy} used to say, 'Why watch strangers when you can watch friends,' " recalls the accused in tearful testimony she hopes will sway the prudish jurors.

Naturally her attorney had urged her not to take the stand, but she was determined to make the jury understand that her love for Andrew -- who gave her handcuffs for Valentine's Day -- was different, but not dirty. Since Dafoe's been enjoying her painful ministrations himself lately, he doubtless worries that his outspoken client will spill the beans about their increasingly kinky affair.

She gets the upper hand in the ensuing clash of wills, but the director, German-born and Jesuit-trained Uli Edel ("Last Exit to Brooklyn"), makes sure she gets hers in the end, if you know what I mean. The characters, for all their sacrilege, seem to be stuck with the tenets learned in Sunday school. And Madonna, who sucked God's toes in her video "Like a Prayer," and Dafoe, who played the man himself in "The Last Temptation of Christ," seem perversely well suited to what is at its core a fundamentalist indictment of alternative sexual practices.

Brad Mirman, who wrote this hash of "Presumed Innocent," "Basic Instinct" and "9 1/2 Weeks," betrays a true 1950s mind-set when it comes to both the sexually aggressive woman and homosexual man. The latter, represented by a doddering Frank Langella, slinks out of the courtroom in shame after admitting that he took up men after surviving an affair with the defendant.

Good women, married ones who know their place -- not on top -- are represented by Julianne Moore, a gorgeous redhead who plays Dafoe's wife. She's like the Anne Archer character in "Fatal Attraction," the keeper of the nuclear family, she who stands by her man. In this movie Archer plays the dead guy's weepy secretary. Both women make Madonna look like a washed-out, pinched-faced, gap-toothed wallflower at a sock hop.

Speaking of gap teeth, you could drive a tent peg through the one in Dafoe's snarly smile. The guy doesn't have teeth, he's got cleats. An intensely gifted, albeit odd-looking actor, Dafoe is never going to convince anybody that he's sexually conservative, much less easily manipulated by this loopy siren. Perry Mason makes a more believable sex toy.

In any case, he is irresistibly drawn to the twisted temptress, who rather quickly trusses him up and has her way with him. As sex scenes go, these are chaste compared to those in "Basic Instinct" -- depending on where you menfolk like your hot wax. Madonna waxes eloquent and sucks face like an industrial-strength Hoover.

Both she and Dafoe moan and grunt convincingly, which is more than can be said for their performances before the bench. But then, none of the actors, including the marvelous Joe Mantegna as the prosecuting attorney, is well served by Edel's stiff pacing and Teutonic direction. He seems to have been aiming for a '40s bad-girl film noir, given the moody lighting and the steely utterances, but "Body of Evidence" is only a laughable parody of the genre, best buried. But then those pesky necrophiliacs would probably get wind of it.

"Body of Evidence", is rated R for smut.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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